Ms Berit Andnor, Swedish Minister for Child and Family Affairs delivered the closing statement at the meeting of Senior officials on Interministerial and Intergovernmental co-operation to improve the situation for Unaccompanied Children in the Baltic Sea Region
Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am happy to be here this afternoon and have the opportunity to say some words of encouragement as you go back home to continue the process that has been initiated by this meeting. I wish my schedule had enabled me to spend more time with you during these days and to share all the expertise and enthusiasm that you have shared with one another.
You came here with high expectations on this meeting. Having listened very carefully to the chairman?s conclusion with you I am convinced that this has been a very worthwhile meeting and that some of those expectations have been fulfilled. You have listened to very qualified speakers and in the group discussions you seem to have touched on many important issues that need to be further developed.
I want to start by repeating some of the points made by Minister Karlsson in his opening statement – Children cross borders for several reasons – some run away from unbearable living conditions or different kinds of exploitation. Some do it voluntarily and on their own, some pay adults to assist them. Others again are forced, coerced or deceived with promises of a brighter future in another country. – Joint efforts are needed to be able to counteract the fact that children cross borders for these reasons. No government can alone solve the problem, nor can an authority or organisation do it on its own. – A regional focus involving many sectors of our society – migration management, border control, welfare authorities and the legislative system, NGO’s and civil society all need to be involved in this work if we are to be successful. Building networks between different actors is vital.
We have a long tradition of cooperation between the Nordic countries. Cooperation within the context of the Council of the Baltic Sea States is not quite as old but celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. In that time much has been accomplished in many areas.
One accomplishment in the area of cooperation, which I would like to highlight is the cooperation on children at risk in the Baltic Sea Region. It was initiated and developed by two of my predecessors as Minster of Children and Family Affairs, Mrs Klingvall and Mrs Thalén. This work started as a follow up measure on a regional basis of the First World Congress on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held here in Stockholm in 1996. After a meeting very similar to this one in Tallinn in 1998 it was decided that joint efforts should be made to raise the awareness, raise the level of competence and build networks among decision makers and different professionals who meet the children in question.
The Swedish Government took on the main responsibility for this project and the Norwegian Government supported the project. A long process led to decision in October 2001 to establish a more permanent cooperation on children at risk. In the years leading up this decision, national co-ordinators have been appointed in all countries, national competence centres are in place and meet on a regular basis and a well functioning web page – the Childcentre – has been developed. A reference group of senior officials from all countries was closely connected to the project.
The decision to formalise the cooperation over period of three years meant a commitment from all countries to finance a children’s unit at the secretariat and to form a Working Group for Cooperation on Children at Risk – the WGCC. This means that the regional cooperation on children can go on – and it can grow.
The work was initially concentrated on commercial sexual exploitation of children – a very important issue. It soon became evident that the focus needed to be expanded to children at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, so most of the work done so far has been in this area.
When planning its work for the coming years the working group needed to set some priorities. A starting point was the statement by the Heads of Government at their meeting in St Petersburg in June last year stressing the need for “joint efforts to find appropriate solutions to the acute problem of trafficking in children and the increasing number of unaccompanied minors crossing national borders within the region, their proper care, identification, repatriation and rehabilitation.” A decision was taken to explore the possibilities of a meeting between senior officials with the aim of establishing a regional cooperation to improve the work with these children.
Going back to the chairman’s conclusions, there seems to be agreement on the need for a follow up process to this meeting. So, with the support promised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we can look forward to a coming cooperation to better the lives of children who cross the borders in region regardless if they came voluntarily or were trafficked. The aim must be see these children as individuals each with his or her history. These children deserve the possibility of meeting stable adults who can give them support and a helping hand to create new ways and a belief in a future.